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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Blog Action Day 2011: Famine Claims Thousands As Tons Of Food Wasted

"Statistics tells of an ominous:  the day will come when many would fight for a single grain, rich and poor alike, the dispensation when money is a non-factor." 

When a tourist or an expatriate worker for the first time lands in any Saudi city, chances are the conspicuous Arabian culture pretty much does not go unnoticed. Tall minarets dotting skylines and at some point juxtaposed with a skyscraper, bustling traditional souks and ubiquitous modern malls greet you with explicit Arabian hospitality. From the unmistakable traditional garb worn by men to his unique driving style (left foot nestled on the dashboard while behind the steering wheel is a common sight in major roads), one can easily make out and understand local customs and behavior. Sea of black-clad shoppers can be seen raiding the malls at night is another peculiarity unique to Saudi women. 

While a lot of positive things come out long in the list, speaking of Saudi uniqueness however, entails a variety of opposing qualities. Let me stick then to the obvious. If one happens to be in Jeddah, one thing that won't escape your eyes is the all-gleaming blue occupant in every street corner that hosts substantial feline population. These poor creatures can be seen fighting one another for a lump of wrapped yellow rice and ribs loosely hanging on the edge of  blue dumpsters. These wasted foods dumped by people come from the excess on their tables. You cringe knowing that thousands of people die in Somalia due to starvation, and here you see foods being abused and disrespected. Some foods they throw are still fresh and look very much edible.

Coming from the word itself of one Saudi mother, she admits that Saudis in general live in a culture of excess, and food is no exception.  Saudis have penchant for holding feasts especially during summer holidays when weddings are preferably held. Along with the massive feasts also come tons of leftover food that they simply dump. People show less concern for the hungry ones around them that wasting food has been ingrained in their culture.

The month of Ramadan is no exception. Okay, everybody knows every able-bodied Muslim adult fast from dawn till dusk (well, they see to it they are pretty well-stuffed before the break of dawn so that feeling hungry during the day does not make sense). Fasting is imperative so as not to 'lose' reward from god. Even most of my colleagues are too terrified a drop of water touches their lips or they risk losing their reward (hence talking with them closer is not advised). The zeal is there to perfect the daily ritual of shunning food and water, but wait till they get to the table when the loudspeaker signals time to break their fast. You don't believe your eyes how   leftovers could still feed a handful and yet  fly straight to the garbage.

Ramadan 2010 actual data: 
* In Dubai, 1,850 tons of food on average are thrown out daily - mostly from large banquets and top-end venues like 5-star hotels. The rich and famous in the emirate demand lavish food served in hotels at Iftar, after which all excess go straight to the garbage as per hotel policy.
* In neighboring Abu Dhabi, 500 tons of food on average are dumped daily. It is not clear whether attempts by various NGOs to raise awareness on food wastage have been successful.
* In Saudi Arabia, no figure or estimate is available due to some press censorship. Anything that comes out unfavorably for the country's image is an outright 'lie'. But consider this: the very media outlet that screams of massive food wastages over in Dubai and Abu Dhabi is a Saudi daily, yet it carries no figure or estimate of the same from its very own.
* Saudi Arabia has one of the highest obesity rates in the world. Local health experts readily blame the culture of over-eating especially in Ramadan, that some even die of high-blood pressure and other related illnesses triggered by eating oily and fatty foods.

Emphasis on Ramadan:  Traditionally, families prepare sumptuous meals and gather for Iftar (breaking the fast) and Suhoor (meal before dawn). As a festival of giving and sharing, Ramadan is centered around on providing bountiful meals so that increased food purchasing is witnessed during the month, making way for more wastage. At mealtime, the habit of piling food on to the plate (in most cases, hunger breeds gluttony), contributes to massive food wastage. Cooking too much food to reward oneself for enduring a day's fast is also an unbeatable habit by many in Ramadan. Anticipating guests to join  Iftar meals also drives them to cook more, to which extent excess food has no more room in the fridge, thus food is wasted.

Putting into perspective, facts laid down are simply comprehensive.  The glaring display of extravagance on food and the resulting food wastages by rich countries is beyond anyone's comprehension, yet across a narrow strip called the Red Sea, piles of dead bodies are strewn everywhere due to famine. Aid organizations do exist in the Gulf region, but they are yet to make an impact proportionate to the region's food wastages. Efforts have been made to minimize food wastages, but without the cooperation of the people, these blah blahs could well turn out to be some vexing advert of epic proportion.

Global impact: Food waste is a real concern of global proportion. Many food products can be classified as biodegradable, but its non-consumption means that precious resources used in its cultivation and production are wasted, such as energy, water and material used for its packing. Carbon emissions resulting from the food's transportation, storage and disposal are also big contributors to climate change.

While thousands die of hunger in many parts of the world, food waste is deemed a serious global issue. Studies indicate that not all rich countries have a hand on this global phenomenon (as this issue is more culture-based). This global concern however is a source of national shame for those countries whose people act irresponsibly, without regard for those dying because of hunger. It is not their fault, yes, but the attitude certainly does show utter defiance to human conscience, that human beings are inclined to show respect and compassion to their kind.

Today marks this year's Blog Action Day and coincides with the celebration of  World Food Day. Apparently, food scarcity is the single most pressing issue that affects many nations on earth. The Horn of Africa for example, is beset with famine due to a prolonged drought that results to hundreds, if not thousands of death every single day. On the other hand, just less than an hour- flight across, rich nations like the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia traditionally compete with each other as to which one gets the crown of having the most number of tons of food wastage on summer holidays and in Ramadan. If tradition is to take the blame, I hope people start to act like humans and practice humanity for the sake of their kind, albeit inferior to their eyes.

If nation or nations preach peace to be their way of life because that is what their religion teaches, then let it practice what it preaches. Let it start by being peaceful with nature - to show respect for all the blessings  nature has given them, and show compassion to those who lack in life. The media and the academe in those  countries should spearhead educational campaign and rally the support of its national and local leaders, thereby gaining a foothold on gradually changing the mindset and practice of its people that are proven irrelevant in the fast-shrinking globalization. Statistics tells of an ominous:  time will come when many would fight for a single grain, rich and poor alike, the dispensation when money is a non-factor - the one  foretold in the Bible as the coming  Awful Horror. Let's hope that everyone stakes his claim to the greater cause of preserving nature, so that food and other necessities in life do not vanish in haste, when climate change has the final say in man's destiny.

I am proud to take part in Blog Action Day Oct 16, 2011


Sally - My Custard Pie said...

You've raised really important points here. The way day becomes night during Ramadan and the retail focus in Saudi always used to shock me when I lived there. I hadn't realised the extent of the food waste problem here in the UAE either.

DonPepe1972 said...

I'm from Saudi Arabia and I've seen tons of food wasted everyday and most especially during Ramadan. We should all change our habits of eating and put love in it, because love is the only thing that will remind us of what's going around us and share what ever we have to those who's in need.

We should think about the famine that is happening now in Africa, particularly in Sudan and Somalia, before we make the first bite on that chicken wings, that rice or that burger. Food is a blessing from God, we should not waste it! God bless you and the starving people of Africa!

Esoy said...

@ Sally- My Custard Pie, yes indeed it really is shocking to know the figures, because what we talk about here is thousands of tons daily of food waste by these countries whose culture of excesses is beyond one's comprehension. It's just too incredibly inhuman-like this practice is based on culture. Hope the day comes when people realize that everything they do good or evil is held to account in the end.
Thank you for dropping by. God bless.

@ Pepe, you're definitely right. As a Saudi expat yourself, you are aware of what has been going on around you and that it has become a daily fodder for anyone living here to see people neglecting what is too important for others at the other end of the spectrum. May we all learn a lesson from this, although many do not see it yet coming, but yes, that day will surely come.
Thanks for the thought. God bless.

Someone is Special said...

An important point to be noticed.. People waste tons of food here whereas few people waiting for the waste to eat.. What a world is this.. I am super glad you raised this point.. thanks.. and the first quote in blue color font is amazing.. Keep writing thoughtful post like this.. PS: what could food starvation can do? Read my post here for BAD 2011

Someone is Special

Esoy said...

@ Someone Special, this is so true here in this part of the world. People don't have much awareness about resources being taken for granted because of a culture of apathy, for as long as they have the means to acquire all the necessities in life, expect that calls for them to act responsibly would fall on deaf ears. But time will come when even their money can't help them, when there is nothing left to abuse, then realization takes hold.

By the way, thanks for leaving a mark. Have a great day ahead.

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